Indonesia

The path towards “inclusive growth” – some indicators

In his fourth State of the Nation Address before a joint sitting of Congress, President Noynoy Aquino made reference to inclusive growth, inclusive progress or broad-based growth about thrice in his hour-and-a-half-long speech, but he mentioned the words transformation 15 times, change 14 times and reform 11 times. At the midpoint of his term, PNoy sought to bring home the message that change in the culture of “wang-wang” which he coined in his inaugural state of the nation address has taken place under his watch and that as a result of the reforms he instituted, the path for providing opportunity to all has been opened up irrevocably.

Inclusive growth as he declared in his speech was about providing everyone the chance to have a go at life, what the Australians call “a fair go”, which constitutes a social contract that if you work hard at bettering yourself, you can move ahead in life. It is not about guaranteeing the same outcome, however, meaning it is up to the individual whether to take advantage of the opportunities presented, or not. Providing equal opportunity means building human capabilities to pursue “the good life”.

The Asian Development Bank has come up with a Framework for Inclusive Growth which provides a set of indicators for measuring whether governments and societies develop that basic level of capacity in its people. The framework is comprised of three pillars: the first one supports economic growth to expand opportunity, the second one supports social inclusion to provide equal access to economic opportunity, and the third supports social safety nets for those who slip through the cracks. There are a number of indicators for each pillar.

I have sampled a few and collated the results for the Philippines and six other emerging economies from our region to compare the different paths we have taken down the road of inclusive growth and development. Let me start with the most basic one: income or the lack of it. Having a decent level of income is one of the most basic measures of material well-being. Social disadvantage comes from not having income sufficient to live on. The following chart shows the proportion of people living on less than $2 a day for us and our Asian neighbours at the start of the 90s and the end of the noughties.

income

At the start of the 90s, Vietnam had the highest rate of poverty at 85.7%, followed by China and Indonesia which were each at 84.6%, India at 81.7%, the Philippines at 55.4%, Thailand at 37.1% and Malaysia at 11.2%. By the end of the noughties, India had the highest poverty rate at 68.7%, followed by Indonesia at 46.1%, Vietnam at 43.4%, the Philippines at 41.5%, China (29%.8%), Thailand (4.6%) and Malaysia (2.3%). In percentage terms the countries that had the largest decline of poverty was Thailand which saw a drop of 88%, followed by Malaysia (-79%), China (-65%), Vietnam (-49%) and Indonesia (-46%).

The Philippines and India saw the least amount of poverty reduction at -25% and -16% respectively from their initial states. Despite the periods of rapid growth that both these countries experienced during the past two decades, the relative insensitivity of their poverty rates to growth is a bit disconcerting.

The most important predictor of future income is of course the amount of schooling one receives. This is best measured by the years of schooling a person achieves by a certain age. The following chart shows the average total schooling for youth aged 15-24 at the start of the 90s and end of the noughties for the same set of countries.

school

At the start of the 90s, Malaysia and the Philippines recorded the highest totals with 10.2 years and 8.1 years for each of them respectively. China (7.6 years) and Thailand (7.2 years) came next, followed by Indonesia (6.5 years), India (4.6 years) and Vietnam (4.5 years). Two decades later and Malaysia retained the top spot with 12 years on average, but China with 10.9 years overtook Thailand (10.6 years) and the Philippines (9.7 years). Vietnam nearly doubled its number of years to 8.8 overtaking Indonesia (7.7 years) and India (7.1 years). Vietnam succeeded the most in this area lifting the average years of schooling by 4.3 years, followed by Thailand (3.4 years) and China (3.3 years). India lifted its average by 2.5 years, followed by Malaysia (1.8 years), the Philippines (1.6 years) and Indonesia (1.2 years).

The Philippines which started out as first runner up has been relegated to fourth in ranking among these seven countries with Vietnam closing in. The high tech industries of the Philippines and India demand college educated workers. This means that good employment opportunities in these two countries are available only to a few. To be able to perform well at school, children need adequate nutrition.

When people suffer starvation at a young age, it affects their future prospects in life. Malnourished children suffer learning difficulties as their mental development is set back. The prevalence of underweight children under five years becomes a significant predictor of future misery. The following chart depicts this for the same set of countries.

underweight

At the start of the 90s, the highest levels of malnourishment were found in India with 52.8% of children underweight, Vietnam with 36.9%, the Philippines with 29.9% and Indonesia with 29.8%. They were followed by Malaysia (22.1%), Thailand (16.3%) and China (12.6%). At the end of the noughties, India still had the worst result at 43.5% followed by the Philippines (20.7%), Vietnam (20.2%), Indonesia (17.9%), Malaysia (12.9%), Thailand (7%) and China (3.4%).

Both India and the Philippines saw their prevalence drop the least in percentage terms by 18% and 31% respectively, while China and Thailand saw it drop the most by 73% and 57%. The huge disparity of income in India and the Philippines is the main cause of their underperformance.

Finally, how can an individual seek human well-being if he or she does not even survive early childhood. The under-five mortality rate provides an indication of the quality of health care provided to mothers during pregnancy and children at the very start of their lives. The following chart shows the number of deaths per 1,000 live births across the same sample of countries.

child mortality

At the start of the 90s, India had the highest rate of child mortality at 115 deaths per 1,000 live births, followed by Indonesia with 85, the Philippines with 59, Vietnam with 51, China with 48, Thailand with 32 and Malaysia with 18. By the end of the noughties, the mortality rate in India dropped to 63, while in Indonesia it fell to 35, likewise in the Philippines to 29, Vietnam to 23, China to 18, Thailand to 13 and Malaysia to 6. In percentage terms Malaysia saw the largest drop at 67% followed by China at 63%. India saw the slowest reduction at 45% followed by the Philippines at 51%.

Baseline

These figures provide a good baseline for measuring inclusiveness within these countries. There are more indicators provided by the ADB, but these form the core set for anyone interested in studying inclusive growth. The Philippines seems to be in the same situation as India, in that they both experience the slowest reduction of social disadvantage among these countries–social disadvantage which is experienced at the very beginning of life. It is for this reason that the social reforms undertaken by the government are worth noting.

In his SONA, the president announced that he would be increasing the coverage of the conditional cash transfers to four million families and the period of eligibility up until children reach the age of 18. Patterned after successful programs in Brazil and Mexico that have been around for over a decade, the program screens participants based on a multi-dimensional test of social disadvantage. It provides cash straight to them through e-cards given to the mothers to avoid the usual bureaucratic double handling. They continue to receive a monthly cash transfer if they keep their children in school, make them undergo vaccinations and receive reproductive health counselling at health centres.

Their compliance and continuing eligibility is monitored regularly by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. A recent impact evaluation conducted by the World Bank shows that the intended program objectives are being met. School enrollment and attendance and better nutrition has been observed among children of CCT participating communities compared to non-participating ones. Although the poverty rate of the Philippines did not shift significantly between 2009 and 2012, it does not mean that this program was ineffective. The intergenerational nature of this reform implies that the Philippines will begin to reap the benefits of Pantawid Pamilya six to ten years after it was instituted. That means only by 2016 and beyond will this reform’s impact be noticeable through national family income and expenditure surveys when the children of Pantawid reach the working age of 15 years.

It will be PNoy’s successor who will reap the social dividend from the expansion of this program. It is true that this reform can now be considered irreversible in the sense that it will be hard for any successive administration to retract it. The only way to phase it out would be to make it obsolete by reducing the number of poor households. Although the president inherited the program from his predecessor, he can claim credit for rapidly expanding it. The other reforms which the administration instituted, such as closing the classroom gap, the sin tax law, expanding affordable healthcare, offering rent subsidies to informal settlers and the reproductive health act could also reap benefits for successive administrations.

What is disconcerting is how many Filipinos among the educated and upper socio-economic groups still oppose the reforms just mentioned, begrudging the opportunities given to the poor as mere dole outs. It is a sign of just how exclusive and inequality tolerant we have become as a society. Perhaps it isn’t any wonder why our growth has not been very inclusive so far, and why the path towards inclusive growth needs to be pursued even more vigorously by the current administration.

The Philippines in the Asian Century

This was President Benigno S. Aquino III’s remarks at the Asia Society in Sydney on the 25th of October 2012. He talked about the Philippines being a bright spot in the global economy and the reforms his government has enacted to gain investor confidence and improve social equity.

After delivering an eight minute speech, PNoy took questions from the audience.

What was missing from the discussion was an explanation as to why despite the country being one of only a handful in the region that has exhibited robust growth in the first semester of this year has foreign direct investment not returned even when as the president remarked so many attempts at good governance have been made. Instead, it is the stock market that has surged as “hot money” has flowed in helping to drive up the value of Philippine stocks and with it the peso. This in turn has driven down the competitiveness of our exports be they in manufacturing, mining, agriculture or services.

What is needed from the president at this point is a vision for the Philippines, a strategy that would position it well in this, the Asian century, with the rise of China, India and Indonesia. What role will the country play in this century? Will it join these other nations in lifting millions out of poverty? Will it see a rapidly growing middle class earning between $10 and $20 a day (these being the poverty threshold in Brazil and Italy, respectively)?

The president spoke of his mining policy recalibration, at a time when commodity prices globally are declining from their peak prior to the Global Financial Crisis, with the rebalancing of China’s economy driving demand for commodities down, and with global supply about to catch-up with global demand. In Australia the pipeline of investments amounting to around $350 billion has now been cast into doubt as evidenced by BHP Billiton’s suspension in August of projects worth $30 billion in Western and South Australia. In addition, the Mining Resource Rent Tax expected to generate billions for the Federal government raised nothing during the first quarter of its operation due to weaker mining profits.

Now they say, the next big boom will come in agriculture and services as the Asian middle class switches its diet from grains to meat, requiring more agricultural output to supply livestock feed, and as they seek better quality education and travel experiences abroad. As the West deals with its ageing population and demands skilled workers to fill the seats of retiring baby boomers in the next few years, how will the country cope with this race for talent?

Indeed, there are many important questions that need to be considered. The country needs a strategist-in-chief who will demonstrate leadership by tackling these broader long-range issues. Yes, we need honest government, but more than that, we need to know our strategic direction so that our government can navigate through the treacherous terrain our nation faces. There are many things going in our favour: proximity to the world’s fastest growing markets, a large, literate and highly skilled population, and now a government that wants to do things above board.

We need to now harness that latent potential and drive the country forward.

Is the Philippines a Late Bloomer?

“Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents. But we also have to accept that there’s nothing we can do about it. How can we ever know which of the failures will end up blooming?”
Malcolm Gladwell

In the Philippines, children trooped to school this week as yet another academic year began. It seemed like any other year, with the rising cost of private education and the shortage of classrooms and teachers plaguing the public system giving concern to parents.

There was one significant difference though: the country became one of the last in the region to adopt a K-12 (kindergarten to Year 12) structure. The additional two years to secondary education and one year of kindergarten meant that the educational system in the country has finally caught up with the rest of the world.

It is hoped that with this reform, the country would be able to lift the academic test scores of its pupils which have been lagging behind that of neighbouring states. Previously it was hypothesised, educators tried to cram in too much content within the span of ten years. It is hoped that allowing more time to learn the new national curriculum would produce better results.

But apart from giving students the tools to succeed in life, there is a number of policy areas in which the Philippines has lagged behind but could now be catching up. Reproductive health and family planning is an example of where the country has remained staunchly intransigent even when there has been a near universal consensus arrived at around the world on this issue. The long-delayed reproductive health bill that has languished in Congress for over a decade may finally pass.

In the area of peace and order and social justice, the country has one of the longest running communist insurgencies in the world. Its land reform program whose implementation has taken decades longer than expected, may finally be completed with the resolution of the Hacienda Luisita case.

After a chequered history, the revised sin tax legislation may finally pass, giving government finances a boost and allowing credit rating agencies to give a positive outlook for the country, which in turn lowers the cost of borrowing for the government. Having been a net debtor nation to the rest of the world, the nation’s ability to shore up international reserves through balance of payments surpluses now make it a net creditor.

After being the consistent laggard of Southeast Asia when it comes to attracting foreign direct investments, an investment pipeline involving infrastructure projects may soon reverse its fortunes. With growth slowing in the BRIC economies, the US and the EU, a first quarter growth of 6.4% year-on-year making the average for the past two years 5.6% make the country a stand-out along with Indonesia and Turkey (see video below for an explanation).

With employment growing and inflation easing, some are beginning to wonder if the Philippines is finally getting its act together. Two thousand and twelve could be a “breakout” year for the country.

The Human Development Report 2011

The latest release by the United Nations of the Human Development Report provides an occasion to review how the Philippines is tracking compared to its Asian neighbors.

Since 1980, the UN has compiled data relating to the human development of nations. The HDI or human development index is a composite of three dimensions of human well-being. The following dynamic chart provides a history of the country’s HDI from 1980 up to 2011 in relation to four other countries in the region, namely Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Click the “play” button and you will find that as all nations in the region climbed up in the HDI ladder, the Philippines which ranked a close second to Malaysia in 1980 with an HDI score of .55 compared to .56 for the latter was overtaken in 1992 by Thailand. Malaysia has widened its gap with the rest of the pack scoring .76 this year compared with .68 for Thailan and .64 for the Philippines.

Education

Turning to the Education Index, which is based on the mean years of schooling for adults and the expected years of schooling for children, we find that the Philippines was the leader of the pack back in 1980 with a score of .53 compared to Malaysia the first runner up with .42 and Vietnam the second runner up with 0.4.

It took seventeen years for Malaysia to close that gap and overtake us in 1998. It now sits in the lead with a score of .73 compared to us at .68. Thailand ranks third with a score of .6. This is in part because of the expected years of schooling of our children which at 11.9 years is below Indonesia’s which is at 13.2, Malaysia’s at 12.6 and Thailand’s at 12.3, Vietnam is catching up to us with 10.4.

Health

In health, the Philippines began in third position with a health index of .68 in 1980. It has ended at the bottom of the heap in 2011 with a score of .77. It has the lowest life expectancy at birth of 68.7 years compared to Vietnam which ranked first with 75.2, Malaysia at 74.2, Thailand at 74.1 and Indonesia at 69.4.

The Philippines has the second to the lowest level of expenditure on public health at 1.3% of GDP compared to Vietnam which ranked first with 2.8%, Thailand with 2.7%, and Malaysia with 1.9%. Only Indonesia spent proportionately less than us with 1.2%.

The Philippines also has the second to the highest mortality rate for under-five year olds with 33 children out of one thousand live births dying before the age of five, compared to 39 for Indonesia, 24 for Vietnam, 14 for Thailand and 6 for Malaysia.

Income

In terms of income, the Philippines ranked second to Malaysia in 1980 but was overtaken by Thailand in 1982 and then by Indonesia in 1993. Vietnam is quickly gaining on us. In the three decades from 1980 and 2009, average incomes rose by 22% in the Philippines from $2,620 to $3,220 (measured in purchasing power parity terms). Thailand’s average income tripled to $7,260 from $2,200. Malaysia’s grew by 260% to $12,725 from $4,890.

Poverty headcounts measured as a percentage of the population was included in this year’s report. It showed the Philippines with the second lowest poverty incidence of 13.4% compared to Thailand with 1.6%, Vietnam with 17.7% and Indonesia with 20.8%. Malaysia’s poverty headcount was not available.

In terms of the severity of poverty felt by those who are in poverty, however, which is based on multiple dimensions of poverty, not just income, the Philippine poor suffered the highest intensity of poverty.

Gender Gap

The Gender Inequality Index started to be collated in 1995. This is a composite measure which tracks inequality between women and men in three dimensions involving reproductive health, empowerment and the labor market. The lower the score is, the higher the level of development.

The Philippines had an inequality index of about .49 the second highest. This has gone down to .43 with no change in its ranking among the five countries. This is in part to do with the high maternal mortality ratio which in 2008 was still close to one in a thousand live births resulting in death for the mother compared to the leader Malaysia which sees three in ten thousand live births.

Our adolescent fertility rate is the highest in 2000 at 49.1 per one thousand women aged 15-19 years falling pregnant. It has actually gone up to 54.1 per one thousand women falling pregnant in 2010.

On the plus side, our representation of women in secondary education is the highest with 1.03 women to men enrolled, and similarly our ratio of women in parliament is second best at 27%. However in terms of labor force participation, we place a very distant third place with only about a 63 percent ratio of women to men participating compared to nearly ninety percent for Vietnam and about eighty percent for Thailand.

Environment

The Philippines had the second highest average number of people per year affected by natural disaster with 48,370 per million inhabitants affected in 2010. Thailand had the highest number with 58,220 affected. Indonesia had the lowest with 1,364. But in terms of casualties, the country suffered the biggest number of deaths with ten for every million inhabitants dying due to natural disasters.

Use your coconut: Of investment gaps and how to fill them

The coconut serves as a good analogy for our under investment problem.

The five year Philippine Development Plan (aka “the Plan”) released by the government of President Aquino earlier this year identifies a number of “structural defects” underpinning the country’s poor economic performance. Depicting the problem was easy enough. Without a significant uptick in investments, inclusive growth will remain elusive and poverty will continue to hound us, so the Plan says.

Using an analogy inspired by Robinson Crusoe to grasp this, imagine living on an island where the only resource is the coconut and inhabitants keep arriving. The only way to feed a growing population is to plant more coconut trees. “Investing” in more trees requires hiring more laborers to climb them in order to harvest the coconut. Some coconuts could be consumed, while others could be traded for products from other islands.

The Philippines has lagged behind its Asian neighbors in investing, which explains why it is so poor. Exhibit A as provided by the Philippine Development Plan is reproduced here (see below). Since peaking at 25% in 1997, the country’s investment-to-GDP ratio has been steadily declining, underperforming Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. A familiar story for Philippine-watchers–we have all heard or read about this before.

Chart 1. Investment-to-GDP Ratios of Selected Asian Countries: 1994-2010 (in percent)

So what is the reason for this underinvestment? The answer given to us is a lack of competitiveness. The country’s lagging infrastructure, its poor governance and inadequate skill base are increasing the cost of doing business in the country. On the island for instance, a lack of tools to harvest coconuts, a lack of laborers with the skill at converting coconuts into useful products and a lack of boats to transport them offshore is the problem. Now what? Well, according to this narrative, massive infrastructure spending, improved governance and human capital development is warranted.

So beginning next year, the government will be bidding out four initial infrastructure projects amounting to twenty five billion pesos to improve infrastructure in the country. After a year of delays, the amount is about a quarter of what was originally slated. The projects include the construction and maintenance of three airports in Cebu, Bohol and Misamis Oriental and the ticketing system for Manila’s three light railways.

The government has also been busy this year fixing the internal procurement systems within the public works, agriculture and education departments. Much of the budgeted expenditures for this year was held back (a little over half of infrastructure budget as of September has not been spent) due to these efforts, but beginning next year, we are told, they should proceed much more smoothly. The DepEd also has a plan to close the gap in school buildings within the next five years mainly through build, lease transfer agreements with the private sector.

Assuming all these projects go ahead without further delay, we should expect the nation’s problems to be fixed in five years, right? Well, not exactly. One needs to get a sense of the scale of the problem first. This is why I did some very rough back-of-the-envelope calculations to determine the overall size of the employment and investment gaps. Using our island analogy it is like asking the question, how many coconut trees need to be planted to provide enough work for its growing number of inhabitants?

Climbing the coconut tree

Using data from 2005 to 2010, I tried to compute how much additional investments would be needed in the next five years to bring unemployment down from where it is currently at 7.4% to a more manageable level of say 4%. The country has about three million unemployed workers out of a total labor force of thirty-nine million in 2010. Each year about seven hundred thousand new entrants are added to this pool, which means a workforce of about forty-three million by 2016.

So for the country to produce jobs for all of these new entrants and reduce the pool of unemployed workers down to about 1.7 million consistent with an unemployment rate of 4% by 2016, about one million net new jobs need to be created each year. This is consistent with the government’s employment target. There is nothing new there.

The reason why we haven’t seen unemployment decline is because the number of net new jobs created each year is usually slightly below the number of new entrants (see Chart 2 below). Thus, the number of those unemployed steadily rises each year in proportion to the growing work force leaving the unemployment rate relatively stable at around 7.5%. The question now is how much additional investments have to be raised to bring this down to 4%.

Chart 2. Supply and Demand of New Jobs in the Philippines: 2006 to 2010

If one compares the average investments over the past five years of about one-and-a-half trillion pesos per year  (roughly 15% of GDP as shown in Chart 1–see preceding section) with the average number of net new jobs created of about seven hundred thousand per year, one arrives at a figure of about four hundred and fifty new jobs for every one billion pesos spent.

The number of jobs created per peso invested has actually been declining. Back in 1994, a billion pesos in today’s prices would produce about four times as many new jobs. This means that part of the problem has been the increase in productivity particularly in the manufacturing sector where technological progress has reduced the amount of workers required for any given level of output to be produced. In other words, new tools have been created that make climbing the coconut tree a lot easier. As a result, fewer workers are needed.

Assuming that the ratio of new jobs created per peso invested remains steady for the next five years, the amount of investments required to bring unemployment down is about two trillion pesos per year (20-25% of GDP, roughly where we were in the mid- to late-90s). Compared with the average amount of investment spending cited above, this would mean an increase of more than half a trillion pesos (close to six hundred billion) a year or an increase of about forty percent from the current base.

Had the government stuck to its original plan and rolled out a hundred billion pesos worth of projects and assuming an investment multiplier of two (which means a one-for-one additional investment in complementary projects amounting to two hundred billion in total), we would end up filling about a third of the required level of additional investments. Given its planned roll-out is now about a quarter of the original, we will only be achieving close to ten percent of the investment gap. In short, the “solution” does not seem anywhere near the required amount.

“The coconut nut is not a nut”

Here is another problem with the Plan: the assumption that improved competitiveness will steadily increase investments seems straight-forward, but reading the Global Competitiveness Report produced by the World Economic Forum, I find a few anomalies. The chart below shows the various country rankings from 2005 since the Report first came out until 2011 (click the play button).

The Competitiveness Index is a composite score made up of twelve components. These “twelve pillars” that hold up an economy cover things like institutions, macroeconomic policy, infrastructure, health, education, innovation and regulation. The Plan says that the “structural defects” in these pillars as shown by our declining ranking is the chief cause for our declining economy as measured by our investments-to-GDP ratio.

Our ranking has declined alright, but only because of the addition of more countries in the league table in the intervening years. Our score (which you can see by hovering the cursor over the appropriate column) on the competitiveness scale actually rose from 3.71 to 4.08 out of six during the period covered just above Indonesia’s score of 4.05 back in 2005.

Refering back to the first chart, it is clear that in 2008 when our score was actually 4.09, our investment-to-GDP ratio did not climb to anywhere near the level of Indonesia back in 2005. This is like saying two students who scored the same on their tests, did not receive the same final grade. There is an anomaly here.

One might argue that it is our ranking and not our score that counts, so that relative to our neighbors, our score continued to lag and that explains the poorer investment-to-GDP ratio. Makes sense if the grading of students is not based on their absolute scores, but on their relative rankings within the class, right?

Well then, according to that argument, Malaysia which ranked first among its neighbors in terms of competitiveness should have outperformed them in terms of its investments, but the first chart actually shows it slipping steadily below Indonesia and Thailand since 2002 and coming dangerously close to parity with the Philippines. In fact, Indonesia which has consistently come in third in the ratings and rankings of the four neighbors has steadily risen to outclass the Malaysian and Thai investment ratios by 2009 and 2010.

So perhaps, achieving “global competitiveness” is not what it is all “cracked up” to be. It would seem that some other dynamic is driving investments. As one song goes, “the coconut nut is not a nut.” This should give you a lot to think about, which gives me a few days to conclude this. Until then, let me leave you with this tune to fuel your ruminations…

Jammed

Does public infrastructure represent the best use of private investment?

It seems that our corporate titans have nothing better to do with their excess cash than to pour it into the growing public utilities and infrastructure sector. Whether it is San Miguel the beverage giant which went heavily into power or the Metro Pacific group a major player in telecoms which operates the NLEX-SCTEX road networks, there does not seem to be anything which competes for their attention than this sector.

About one-and-a-half trillion pesos is sitting in Special Drawing Accounts with the BSP deposited by banks which are unable or unwilling to lend them out. With a country as underdeveloped as ours, one would think that such excess savings could be put to better use. Why for instance isn’t San Miguel investing to develop coco juice exports which it has the capital and expertise to do?

Since our lost decade in the 1980s when a banking crisis followed by a political upheaval reduced our economy to tatters, manufacturing has never really recovered from the heights it once achieved by the end of the 70s and early 80s (see chart). Meanwhile, our ASEAN neighbors Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand overtook us in moving their economies towards industry. Our gross capital formation as a percentage of GDP is the weakest in the region as a result.

Vietnam, a relative latecomer in the game has seen its manufacturing sector grow by leaps and bounds, while Singapore cannot be held up as an example for us to follow since it is a city-state with a tiny population and workforce. It can afford to de-industrialize its economy, while we can’t. While some would argue the high value services sector is nothing to sneeze at, it still cannot be relied on to provide the kind of jobs that match the skills held by our bulging population. The answer lies with manufacturing.

The Philippine Development Plan identifies infrastructure as the “binding constraint” to speedier growth. The reason it claims Philippine goods remain uncompetitive is our inability to bring them to market efficiently. Apart from that there is the implicit “tax” that comes by way of corruption which increases the cost of doing business and the unfair competition from smuggled or pirated goods that discourages domestic manufactures, the result of weak rule of law.

With its low tax collection rate and chronic fiscal deficits, partly to do with an aggressive liberalization policy pursued since the 1990s, the government was more than willing to let the private sector fill the breach in public infrastructure.

Since private business seems so gung-ho about providing public goods, it seems the identification of infrastructural bottlenecks was the correct diagnosis of the problem of underdevelopment. One wonders, however, if these firms are moving into such projects because there is no attractive alternative in other sectors, or is it because of higher returns now currently on offer from public-private partnerships?

Also, if indeed there are “bottlenecks” causing the cost of doing business and cost of living to skyrocket, then one would expect the public would be willing to absorb the fees charged by private operators under existing PPP arrangements. That is not what has been observed though (think MRT and LRT). One would then have to conclude that either the private operators have negotiated prices above the market-clearing level or that the demand for such infrastructure was not sufficient to begin with.

Investing in public goods by their very nature would often produce a private return lower than the commercial rate of return. That is why it is often financed in capital scarce countries through “concessionary loans” from foreign governments and multilateral institutions. If private operators borrow at prevailing market rates, then they cannot possibly make a profit unless the government provides a subsidy to pay for the spread between the “risk free” government borrowing rate and the commercial lending rate.

Turnaround

The sudden flash of insight Sec Mar Roxas used to interject into the president’s faltering public-private partnerships roll-out was that it would be better for the government to borrow at the risk-free rate and contract out the construction phase of some projects in effect passing on the cheap cost of capital to contractors. It could then auction off the operations and maintenance contract separately minimizing the need to subsidize fees charged to customers.

The question then is can government afford to borrow more in order to finance its infrastructure roll-out? It could if it chooses take-up the BSP’s offer to borrow against the country’s excess international reserves that accumulate each year. The state would effectively be borrowing against itself. Given the total cost for the original projects of about one hundred billion pesos, the surplus of reserves flowing into the country each year of four to five billion dollars is enough to cover these projects twice over.

If the public sector is then able to deal with the cost of providing infrastructure, how can it stimulate complementary investments needed in the private sector? If the lack of domestic capital and skilled labor are not responsible for the observed underinvestment, neither are low rates of return (low taxes and labor market flexibility are found in special economic zones), then what else could it be?

There are a number of candidates. Government failures which include corruption or weak property rights and rule of law are one option. A second possible candidate is market failure due to inabilities to coordinate investments in complementary upstream and downstream sectors or to internalize the benefits of innovation and experimentation.

The first has been identified by the National Competitiveness Council and the government as an area of concern. The decline of the Philippines ranking in the latest Ease of Doing Business survey by the World Bank reflects the country’s inability to address government failure. On the other hand, if these are the causes for underinvestment, why is it that manufacturing has suffered a decline relative to services in terms of investment and output? Shouldn’t they all be suffering the same fate?

This leads me to identify the problem of market failures as well. The systematic break that occurred in the mid-80s when the country turned away from industry policy and underwent an aggressive reduction of tariffs unilaterally ahead of WTO commitments left our manufacturing sectors at a disadvantage vis-à-vis our ASEAN neighbors. This is perhaps the reason services have oustripped manufacturing since it represents non-tradables which can only be provided domestically. Think retail, housing, commercial property and yes, utilities. Mining is a similar story. How then could the government begin to stimulate activity within the tradable industries? The following five measures would represent the most important steps.

  1. Partially rollback tariffs to within acceptable levels still within WTO commitments targeting in particular greenfields. Sustainable technology is one example of greenfields. To partly offset the modest rise of inflation that would come with this, tax cuts and (conditional cash) transfers should be directed to low income families.
  2. Finalize the list of investment priorities to signal the areas that government wants growth to occur in. Government must consult with business groups in compiling this list, but it must also exert some independence and take the lead in some areas and not simply take a market follower approach.
  3. Rationalize fiscal incentives and gradually fine-tune the selectivity of sectors for promotion. This has already been initiated by the BOI, but follow through and institutional capacity building needs to occur, which leads to the next item.
  4. Strengthen the economic bureaucracy to solve investment coordination problems across related sectors. Improve the ability of state agencies like the BOI, PEZA, DTI and other government agencies to undertake a consultative and promotional role.
  5. Create a research and innovation fund jointly run by public and private enterprise to encourage commercialization of ideas. Given the excess foreign reserves cited earlier, the state can also afford to undertake this strategy in partnership with academe and the business community.

Compared to the strong-arm tactics being employed by Argentina and Brazil which like us bought into the liberal free trade argument in the 1990s and have like us seen their manufacturing sectors stagnate (see chart), these measures would be considered rather tame.

From 1949 to 1959, the Philippines used heavy handed trade and industry policies similar to what LatAm countries pursued from the 1930s to the 1980s. This led to the fastest growth ever sustained in our history (and theirs). Unfortunately, it did not last long enough for investments to expand beyond light industries as Paul D Hutchcroft notes. The direpute to which import-substitution subsequently fell was the result of the Filipino First policy instituted in 1958 towards the end of the decade of growth, an over-reach of the “elite” nationalists. The poor administration and outright corruption that the policy bred stymied it and led to the liberal policies of the 1960s supported by the landed agricultural exporters.

Pres Marcos tried to weaken the landed aristocracy and revive our nascent industry sector in the 1970s, but the lack of checks to the predatory nature of his regime led to its collapse. The Philippines has been following the liberalization paradigm ever since. The stagnancy of our manufacturing and overall weak economic performance is hard to explain given the structural reforms undertaken from the late-80s. The Philippines since the early 2000s has become a net saving country due to overseas remittances and is rapidly accumulating foreign reserves (it has more than enough to pay off all our external debts). With some tweaking, we can unlock this capital and put it to better use.

So far from encouraging private investors to get into public utilities, the government should actually follow Sec Roxas’s advice to break-up build, operate and transfer contracts to lower their cost to the public. Finally, the government must look to revive investments in the industry sector (which includes high value agricultural and services too) through pragmatic policies. It must create as much policy space within existing WTO arrangements to maximize the benefits of industrialization. Without this its vision for a rapid, sustained and inclusive pace of development might simply come to naught.

Indonesia Rising, Philippines Waning

What could be the reason for their divergent paths?

The September update of the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Development Outlook 2011 painted a contrast between the two most liberal ASEAN democracies Indonesia and the Philippines. Based on these countries’ first half performance, the Bank gave a slight upgrade to Indonesia and issued a slight downgrade to the Philippines.

Here is what the ADB had to say about Indonesian prospects:

Forecasts for economic growth are edged up from April’s Asian Development Outlook 2011 reflecting a strong performance in the first half of 2011 and a positive outlook through this year and next. Increases in fixed investment, private consumption, and net exports boosted the first-half result [emphasis added].

Meanwhile, its report on the Philippines was summarized as follows:

Growth for the first half of this year was hampered by weaknesses in exports and government spending, though private consumption and private investment remained strong. A better overall performance is projected for July–December, but the GDP growth forecast for the full year is trimmed from April’s Asian Development Outlook 2011 [emphasis added].

The update concludes that Indonesia’s economy is set to grow by 6.6% in 2011 and 6.8% in 2012, meanwhile the Philippines is set to experience a rise of 4.7% in 2011 and 5.1% in 2012. In assessing the risks, the Bank noted the preparedness of Indonesia to manage the impact of any sudden reversal of foreign capital, while it highlighted the weakness of investor sentiment in the Philippines if “no progress is seen on the government’s reform efforts, including public-private partnerships.”

It was not too long ago, that Indonesia was considered a basket case. The pain it suffered after the Asian financial crisis with riots erupting in the streets, the independence of East Timor, the secession in Aceh, a tsunami and the terrorist activities of Jemaah Islamiyah left the growth and stability of the Suharto years in tatters at the start of the third millenium.

The Philippines in contrast experienced a second “peaceful revolution” in 2001 and was for once outperforming until recently its southern neighbor in the pace of its economic uptick (see Figure 1). Ten years later, Indonesia is once again outperforming the Philippines on many fronts. It joined the Group of 20 nations that convened at the height of the Global Financial Crisis and is considered to be the only other country in our region to have considerable clout in economic affairs after China and India.

So what was it that changed the fortunes of Indonesia in the latter half of the previous decade that has allowed it to regain its stature in the world community while the Philippines remains locked into a slower growth trajectory?

Some would say it was the emphasis on anti-corruption and good governance that produced such sterling results. The election of its president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono back in 2004 (the first directly elected president after ammendments were passed in Indonesia’s constitution) on the back of an anti-corruption platform, many say heralded a new era of clean and honest government, which is credited with restoring Indonesia’s fortunes. If this is true, it would provide some reassurance to the current Philippine president who was given the same mandate in 2010.

To assess the validity of this argument, we would have to turn first to investments in both countries during this period. Figure 2 shows gross capital formation as a percentage of GDP for both nations from 1960 to 2009. What we find is that after falling off a cliff following the 1997 crisis, Indonesian investments were already on an upward V-shaped trajectory even prior to 2004 having gone from 11% in 1999 to 26% in 2003. In 2009, investments were simply restored to their previous levels in the 1990s during the height of Suharto’s crony capitalism.

Investments in the Philippines on the other hand tracked a continuous descent from 1997 onwards. Even during the high growth years of the Arroyo administration, it continued to plumb the depths not seen since the mid-1980s after the Aquino assassination.

While it is true that during SBY’s first term from 2004 to 2009, a very vigorous anti-corruption campaign was launched which successfully prosecuted many high profile figures including a former central bank deputy governor and the president’s son’s father-in-law, corruption continues to persist. In fact since his re-election, some of the powers of the anti-corruption agency have been clipped or put under the supervision of their legislative assembly.

Recent US diplomatic cables uncovered earlier this year by Wikileaks in fact seem to indicate that Yudhoyono’s reputation for cleanliness and good governance may not be as justified as the public thinks (although none of this is substantiated with evidence at this point). Given all these factors, why is it that investor sentiment does not seem deterred?

Mining and Military

The usual suspects in explaining this are the growing demand for minerals and greater political stability. Unlike the Philippines whose electronics sector comprises the bulk of its exports, the Indonesian economy is still heavily dependent on oil and other commodities. Mining projects account for a large bulk of capital formation in the latter, while expansion into higher value sections in the electronics supply chain has been hindered by a highly liberal trade policy and incoherent investment incentives in the former.

The military establishment from where both Suharto and Yudhoyono hailed has served to steady political institutions in the past and provide a measure of coherence in government policy despite the high incidence of corruption. After a spell of political risk and uncertainty following Suharto’s fall, stability has been restored with a strong elected executive. Meanwhile in the Philippines political instability continued to hound the presidency of Mrs Arroyo.

While some regard the period between 1986-1997, the era of “freeing markets” in Indonesia as the peak in investments, it should not be overlooked that it was the period of “reform through planning” from 1965-1986 that improved Indonesia’s position from a poor investment destination in the early 60s to an attractive one in the 90s (see Figure 2).

In other words, a more robust and coherent state successfully steered Indonesia to take advantage of its natural endowments better during the early stages of its development. In fact, Figure 1 clearly demonstrates the superior growth performance of Indonesia prior to 1986 compared to the period after it.

Although a high level of inequality still persists, Indonesia with a population of 230 million has a poverty headcount ratio about half that of the Philippines (13% compared to 26%). It has an average per capita income of $2,300 compared to $1,752 for the Philippines. It is ranked 44 out of 139 in the Global Competitiveness Index compared to 85 for the Philippines.

Long-term Vision

In August the maiden issue of the Strategic Review ran as its cover story a piece by SBY entitled Indonesia in 2045: A Centennial Journey of Progress. It outlined his long-term vision for the country. This is perhaps the non-technical version of the government’s Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Economic Development 2011-2025. The time frames of these documents indicate just how far-sighted the government is.

In this statement, SBY identifies three basic pillars on which to build a national development project. These pillars are: (1) a strong and just economy (poised to become the world’s fourth largest economy of around $20 trillion by 2045), (2) a stable, strong and mature democracy adhering to the rule of law (achieving “geopolitical maturity” with a strong military), and (3) a thriving civilization and an open society having adopted the world’s major civilizations (Islamic, Oriental, Hindu, Buddhist and Western) and exporting its unique blend of culture.

From reading the document, one senses a quiet confidence of a nation unafraid of the challenges posed by increasing globalization and eager to take on the reins of regional and global influence presented to it. This expansive view contrasts with the very introspective and paranoid one that presently occupies the Philippines. There is no sense of animosity towards the dispensations that preceded it. Although it talks a lot about change and reform, one gets a sense of continuity rather than disjointedness.

Divergent Histories

Of course one could hypothesize that the reason for this divergence of temperament arises from the different colonial experiences of both countries. At the time of the European Renaissance, Java and Sumatra had been the site of Hindu and Buddhist states for over a thousand years. Their conversion into Islam only strengthened the cohesiveness of these states.The Philippines was merely a hinterland of these sultanates at the time of Magellan’s arrival.

The relative weakness and lack of cohesiveness among the tribal chieftains in the Philippines made it much easier to colonize. In contrast, the Portuguese failed to extend their influence across much of Indonesia beyond present day East Timor. Only with improved military technology did the Dutch extend their rule in the 19th century over the Javanese states.

One could argue that in Indonesia a strong state was present all along. After having had such a proud tradition of statehood, Indonesia is only now beginning to introduce reforms that strengthen the rule of law and accountability of government. The Philippines on the other hand is still building a coherent and effective state despite the outward trappings of formal democracy.

Although Suharto was just as corrupt, perhaps even more so than Marcos, governance by the state still led to sustained economic growth because corruption did not prevent the state from implementing coherent plans and policies. In the Philippines, the centralization of authority by Marcos did not produce a similar outcome. So Filipinos tended to scorn the state for failing to provide solid economic growth and sought to increase the rule of law and government accountability without creating solid foundations for the state.

This is perhaps why the Philippines finds itself in its present predicament. Even with all the best intentions in the world at instituting rule of law and good governance, it will still fall short of its dream of delivering a better future for its people because it still lacks what the Indonesians already have, and that is a strong and dependable state.

Where’s the beef? On the missing “spoils” from P-Noy’s second US trip

Does good governance mean good economics?

In an earlier piece last week meant more to mark the 39th anniversary of martial law in the Philippines, I tried to downplay expectations regarding the “spoils” that P-Noy’s US trip would bring describing the situation there as dire and nearly on the boil.

As P-Noy was to deliver a report to the World Bank, Mr Olivier Blanchard, Chief Economist of the IMF gave an uncharacteristically downbeat outlook for the world economy saying that the global recovery had stalled, revising forecasts of growth down to 4 from 5% (a more significant slowdown for advanced economies with growth prospects halved from 3 to 1.6% and less drastic cuts for emerging economies whose growth prospects decline slightly to 6.1 from 6.4%–the Philippines has seen its growth prospects slashed from 6-7% down to 4-5%).

Sure enough, on the day he arrived back from the US, the Dow Jones plunged nearly 400 basis points undoing the Federal Reserve’s measured response to prop up confidence. This was in reaction to what has been going on in Europe where Italy, the third largest economy received a credit downgrade from S&P and where a Greek default on sovereign debt looms. Meanwhile the Washington elite remained at odds over how to keep the government running with a measure to keep the lights on until November 18 passed literally at the eleventh hour.

With that as an unfitting backdrop, the president remained upbeat upon planting his feet back on home soil. Unlike his more recent trip to China which was expected to yield 2-7 billion dollars worth of investment of which 1.3 billion dollars was realized in firm commitments and cost the Filipino taxpayer 25 million pesos (a return of 52 dollars worth of investment for every peso spent), there were no numbers to be quoted this time around.

The president instead spoke of the keen interest and enthusiasm of US investors who were “lining-up” to come to the Philippines. Strange that the president did not even mention the figure of $15 million over the next four years the only firm commitment to come from Pepsi to be invested in developing a coconut juice processing facility.

That after all would be good news for the struggling farmers the intended beneficiaries of the Marcos era’s coco levy fund which was meant to provide them support in exporting their crop, but instead went to a bank which then lent to the fund’s manager, P-Noy’s once estranged uncle, who because of that now owns a controlling stake in San Miguel the food and beverage giant thanks to the high court’s ruling earlier this year.

So why the omission, which is so uncharacteristic of arrival statements; could it be because the spoils of this trip are so meager when compared to the nearly 25 million pesos spent on it? It would depict it as representing less value for money by producing a mere 6o cents for every peso spent.

This should not detract from the overall mission of the trip which according to the president was fulfilled by him reporting to the World Bank the advances of his administration this past year and greeting the Filipino community there. There was also the side trip to credit agencies to try and convince them to boost the ratings of the country. After all, the budget deficit no longer seems to be a problem with a surplus reported in August bringing the cumulative deficit for the year to be 85% below its ceiling, right?

This is what the president trumpeted as a success in his drive to stamp out corruption. In the spirit of transparency and openess, which were the themes of the Open Government Partnership that P-Noy inaugurated at the Waldorf Astoria (which incidentally means more foreign trips in the near future to Brazil, Chile, UK, Tanzania and Latvia), the Palace should have at least acknowledged that perhaps the Americans were in no position given the state of their economy to be exporting their capital and jobs to countries like the Philippines.

Never gonna happen

That transparent recognition of the state of affairs of course was never going to happen, for the simple fact that doing so would expose the president to accusations of junketing which given the nature of his presidency is something his entourage wants to avoid. For if the question were really to be asked, what would be the real urgency of making this trip to the US a second time in a row within the space of a year, what would be the answer?

His remarks at the World Bank was like that of a star pupil performing a didactic exercise of parroting his tutor. His visit to Fordham University was a sentimental journey mirroring his mother’s footsteps (similar to his visiting an ancestral hometown in China). His co-inaugural of the OGP lent legitimacy to an initiative sponsored by the World Bank which has struggled to make itself relevant.

Finally, his trip to the IMF was unnecessary given that the Philippines exited their program right before he entered office. The only point of this trip it seems was to highlight the advances of his young presidency in proving that “good governance is good economics”.

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that. For one, the US haul was a pittance compared to the Chinese catch. And China has not really been deterred from investing because of perceived corruption or lack of openness. In fact, China’s development spending in emerging countries devoid of any concerns about corruption in the recipient nation is the main reason why western aid agencies have been struggling to maintain their relevance.

That and the fact that their anti-poverty programs have proven to be inconsequential. So much so that they have jumped on the bandwagon in supporting ideas developed independently by their clients. Programs such as Bolsa Familia which is now called “conditional cash transfers”. Yet as shown in an earlier post, the Philippines could have funded its own variant of this scheme without resorting to multilateral financing.

Second, the “interest” from US companies to invest was sparked not because of a greater sense of openness but from the relative advantages the Philippines has in a couple of areas. One is in the form of coconut plantation; and, two is in the form of a call center industry that has grown from strength to strength even during the period in which corruption supposedly reigned.

Now before you start arguing that the austerity exhibited by P-Noy in his travels is in stark contrast to the “impunity” demonstrated by his predecessor, let me say first of all that this habit of constantly bringing up ex-president Gloria Arroyo as the benchmark for this president’s conduct in office is not really very useful (although I am sure her supporters would be happy to have that conversation). I would prefer to think he should set the bar much higher.

The proper benchmark

Before questions of efficiency and effectiveness are raised, it is important to cross the threshold of appropriateness. How appropriate was it to make the trip at all? If as the president says it was important to send a message about the reforms undertaken by his country, then perhaps it would be pertinent to look at Indonesia’s example. The president of Indonesia the only other Asian country in the steering group of the OGP has trodden the path that P-Noy has just embarked on.

After the anti-corruption campaign started under Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first administration, Indonesia has clearly effected a change in its image abroad. It is sometimes accorded “BRIC” status with  gross capital formation as a ratio of GDP about double and foreign direct investments several multiples of that in the Philippines in recent years. This was another successfully home grown program not driven by donors, the main reason it went from being seen as a basket case after the fall of Suharto to joining the Group of 20 nations.

Yet after accomplishing all this, its president felt no compelling reason to preach the virtues of his nearly decade long administration to other world leaders choosing instead to send a “trusted aid” to the event. Our president on the other hand felt so convinced that his administration after just over a year in office was performing sufficiently well that he saw the need to share his country’s “success story” with people abroad.

Unlike the case of Indonesia where the anti-corruption campaign supported growth, the Philippine government’s attempts to rein in corruption seem to have detracted from that growth as the latest four quarters of GDP reporting have shown (ironically it is in the area of growth where the Philippines over the last decade has not performed too badly against its southern neighbor–but never mind that, lest this statement of fact be interpreted as me giving “props” to the previous dispensation).

While it is understandable for the president acting as Salesperson-in-Chief to present a positive image abroad of our country and his administration, it is equally important for that image to be translated into tangible results over a sustained period of time. Only then will the image correspond to reality. Until then, we can only keep asking, “Mr, Presidentwhere’s the beef?*

*Fresh from his US trip, the president rushed off to Japan for four days. The contrast between the East Asian and North Atlantic nations could not be more stark with one billion dollars expected to be signed off with a taxpayer’s bill amounting to 20 million pesos.

Millions saved in Japan by good engineering, and government codes

An 8.9 Earthquake rocked Japan on Friday afternoon. It was the fifth largest earthquake since 1900. Massive damage across much of the country as fires, floods and damage take its toll. Tsunami warnings were raised around the Pacific ocean as countries from Russia, Canada, the United States, Taiwan, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Chile and even as far as New Zealand have been put on alert.

The largest earthquake in Japanese history struck the island nation at mid afternoon on a spring day. Skyscrapers moved. Fire struck in various parts of the country. People rushed out of office buildings, and people cleared airports. Japan’s nuclear plants went on automatic shutdown.

Half an hour later, tweets on Japan would clock at 1,200 tweets per minute. Photos of burning buildings soon found their way to the web. Links to live streams pop’d out of the web.

At Miyagi prefecture, the closest to the epicenter, a tsunami struck dealing a devastating second punch. On television, video would catch a 10 meter wave slam hard on the Japanese coastline. It was surreal watching cars, boats and planes swept aside like toys. Houses fell like lego buildings being cleaned up by a broom. It was as if some invisible hand was done playing with it. It was like watching a disaster movie, only this time lives were surely lost.

Images of the tragedy filled the web, just as alerts rang out across the planet. 7.9 magnitude was the first report. Minutes later 8.8. No. It would be 8.9. The United States Geological Survey would alter reveal that the Japanese Earthquake would be 900 times as powerful as the Earthquake San Francisco experienced in 1989. And as powerful as the earthquake that struck Chile in 2010.

The Japanese coast had moved 2.4 meters, permanently.

Tsunami alarms raced across the nations around the Pacific. Russia was the first to evacuate their citizens. Taiwan. The Philippines. Guam. Down under in Australia, and New Zealand alerts were raised. North America was not spared. Hawaii was quickly put on notice to prepare for a tsunami. As far as the Great White North of Canada, and along the North American coastline of California, Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, evacuation orders were called. South America’s Chile also received tsunami warnings and as far as Africa, alerts were raised.

The Earth’s axis shifted ten inches.

It is a testament to Japanese engineering that its buildings stood up to the Earthquake, and the 100+ greater than 5.0 magnitude aftershocks that have since occurred. The Japanese have lived with Earthquakes, and their attention to Japanese earthquake engineering, together with training on how to respond to such tragedies must have saved countless millions of lives. That isn’t to say the devastation is no less heartbreaking and staggering. It is to say, it could have been far worst than images of cars, boats and small aircraft being swept aside by the onslaught of water. It could be far worst to see airports underwater, or houses swept aside like an invisible hand done with playing with toys.

Remarkably, Internet didn’t fail. Friends and family from around the world, worried for their loved ones, though unable to reach them via phone, were able to get in touch with them via social networking sites, and via the Internet.

The death toll is still up in the air as the Japanese pick up the pieces of their shattered nation.

Japanese authorities now say that there is a high possibility of a meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear reactor as a perfect storm of system catastrophes seem to push it to the edge. The fallout not just from the radiation, could affect the nuclear reactor manufacturers for decades to come, and could seriously hinder nuclear reactor development.

Now the world watches, and waits, as the Japanese people pickup the pieces of their lives. We will not know the extent of the damage for days to come. What’s clear is that millions were saved by the Japanese engineering prowess, and government codes as well as a lifetime in earthquake training and preparedness. A far less prepared, less wealthy nation would grind to a halt. Victory is in the preparation. For Japan, it saved a lot of lives.

Photo credit: Japanese woman, via @jimparedes and @thomaselden0709

Photos: Kyoto via Reuters/AP

# # #

What follows is the original live blog of the events of the Japanese earthquake as it unfolded.

update-30: Tsunami warning lifted in the Philippines.

White House Chief of Staff Daley says tsunami fears on Hawaii, California seem to have passed.

update-29: 2 to 5 feet tsunami projected to hit Californian coast according to SFGate. Beaches closed.

Update-28: BBC is reporting on the official Kyodo news agency is reporting that about 88,000 people are missing.

BBC also noted that “Houses and other buildings are also ablaze across large swathes of land in Kesennuma city in Miyagi prefecture, near Sendai, footage broadcast by Japanese TV shows. The city has a population of 74,000.”

Update-27:

Kyodo quoting Fukushima-ken officials saying enough water is avail to cover fuel rods at troubled nuke plant, averting feared meltdown.”

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/W7VOA/status/46211052660195328″]

Update-26:

“‘Not going to be a major damaging event, but there’s going to be scattered damage,’ says Pacific Tsunami Warning Center about Hawaii”

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/BreakingNews/status/46209459109900289″]
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/HuffPostWorld/status/46210783218114560″]

Update-25: Japanese defense force ordered to fly to Kyodo nuclear plant.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46204382106222592″]

A passenger train went mssing as tsunami hit Japan.

Update-24: Miyagi Police say they have found 200 to 300 bodies found at coastal area in Sendai city -Kyodo.

Update-23: Six foot waves predicted for Hawaii as Tsunami passes through.

Update-22: Kyodo residents asked to evacuate as cooling functions in Fukushima nuclear plant are not working.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46199300136513536″]
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46199353496440832″]
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46199325566566400″]

Reuters say Crescent City likely to see largest tsunami — California Emergency Agency.
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46199631704637440″]

Guam lifts tsunami alert.

Update-21:

Live Stream from Hawaii as Tsunami reach those islands.

Queen of England issues statement. “Is saddened by that tragic loos of life caused by the Earthquake which has struck North East Japan today. Prince Philip joins me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to Your Majesty and the people of Japan.”

Update-20: Live images from Japan.

Here are some Japanese quake images:

and another one:

via this pic.

Update-19: Live Webcams around Tokyo.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/iA/status/46182624384917505″]
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46185078279241729″]

Update-18: The BBC Reports that japan has declared an emergency situation at a nuclear plant as cooler is not working but no radioactive leakage reported so far.

Update-17:
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/daveewing/status/46115483853930496″]

Update-16: Tsunami hits Taiwan, no major impact.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/felix85/status/46151560736149505″]

Fires from Sendai Airport in Japan:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/felix85/status/46151499822268416″]
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/BreakingNews/status/46153564007043072″]

Update-15: Taiwan monitors for Tsunami:

Update-14: Japanese Earthquake today, is 7th5th most powerful earthquake since 1900.

Update-13: Japanese Nuclear plants closest to Earthquake epicenter shut down properly.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/46143010957832192″]

Update-12: Japanese death toll now at 23:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/felix85/status/46140211528351744″]

Update-11 More footage from Japan:


via lafordia123 on youtube

Update-10: Google launches person finder for Japan Earthquake

Japan Hit By Tsunami 2011 Aerial View_telugutouch.com

via touchversion on youtube

Update-9: Map of Areas in Philippines where Tsunami is likely to hit.
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/The_CopyEditor/status/46127269906878465″]
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/tokyoreporter/status/46108029019631616″]

Update-8: Live Stream via NHK on Japan earthquake. Subway and train services suspended. Flights to japan suspended. If you’re trying to reach friends and relatives in Japan, but can’t because phones are down, try Facebook, and social networks.

Update-7: Tweet-o-Meter registered 1,200 tweets per minute on Japanese earthquake news, this less than half an hour as the quake knocked out Japan’s phone system.

Update 6: Japan PM says damage is widespread. Nuclear plants have automatically shutdown. Tsunami have reached 150 kilometers in land.

Update-5: USGS has updated their data to say that Japan was hit by an 8.8 Earthquake.  Images coming from Japan show buildings burning in Tokyo.

Japan Earthquake: Large fire at Odaiba port in Japan:

video by ProducerMatthew on Youtube.

Tsunami images:

BreakingNews quoted a Japanese agency saying Earthquake is a magnitue 7.9.  The agency added that a 10 foot Tsunami warning is now in place.

United States Geological Survey (USGS) concurrently says that it was a 7.9 earthquake. It was located near the east coast of Honshu, Japan.  It is 382 kilometers from Tokyo.

Update-2: According to Reuters Flash, a 0.5 meter Tsunami has hit Northeastern Japan.

Update-3: The Pacific Tsunami Warning center lists the following countries and territories on Tsunami alert:

“Japan, Russia, Marcus Is., N. Marianas A Tsunami Watch is in Effect For Guam, Wake Is., Taiwan, Yap, Philippines, Marshall Is., Belau, Midway Is., Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Hawaii.”

Twitters:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/BreakingNews/status/46095679927492608″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/tokyoreporter/status/46093877496659969″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/BreakingNews/status/46088603390066688″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/W7VOA/status/46088136962486272″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/mpesce/status/46092827645575168″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/Ed/status/46092847367192576″]